Don’t Go in the Basement


Location Prospect Heights

Rent $1,000 (market)

Square feet 700 (top floor of 1895 house)

Occupants Mark Andrews (artist’s production assistant); Yalcin Bilguvar (film distribution)

[We are going up the stairs of the house.] Can we look inside your landlord’s apartment? The door’s open. [Mark] I guess so. He’s not here this weekend. He and his wife are on their estate in Connecticut. He lives on the first two floors and in the basement. They bought this house over 30 years ago.

It looks like the past, even that sweet smell of an old house, the dark, worn wood, the velvet chair, the way the drape is hanging on the glass-paned door. [We enter their apartment.] [Mark] This house has this really strange feeling. Here’s my landlord’s picture.

He looks so modern, so jovial, and you say he makes this pop art with Elvis Presley in it. But there’s also something sort of Chekhov here. I’m probably thinking about all the dark wood in the house in the Cacoyannis film of The Cherry Orchard. Houses are so important in Chekhov’s work. Sometimes the house is like a person, the death of it so heartbreaking. Then all those stories about an impoverished artist or an ordinary soldier coming upon an estate, large, sparkling with light. You mentioned some UFO sightings here? [Mark] Two. My landlord saw the first. It was circular and silver and moving very fast, left to right. Though maybe it was a weather balloon. My parents also had sightings. They live in a barn in Connecticut.

You and Yalcin met at the Starlight Lounge. [Yalcin] I came for a one-year study from Turkey. I grew up in an apartment in a small town close to Istanbul. Apartments there are more like concrete buildings, with balconies. I was just thinking of what you said about Chekhov. The landlord said this huge family used to live here, 15 people, sons and their families. [Mark] I’m going to sound like a crackpot, but . . .

You did say earlier that the house was haunted. This was in addition to the UFOs. [Mark] Yalcin can’t walk through the house alone at night. [Yalcin] I can’t go to the basement, either. Sometimes he pushes me to go down to the laundry room. I know the basements from horror movies. In Turkey, there are no laundry machines in basements. [Mark] Here’s a photo of a man who lived here. He died in December. He was my best friend. He said the house was haunted. I was doing dishes one night. I felt something touch my right shoulder and heard somebody exhale. I jumped, turned around, and of course nobody was there. A few years before that, five pictures fell off the wall in the hall downstairs at the same time. Nobody was home. There was all this broken glass. It looked like a very violent scene. A couple of times, there were sounds of doors slamming but no one was there. Here are photos of former tenants who rented the room downstairs—an actor, a carpenter, a model, another model. Amazing that in six years, the landlord only raised my rent $100. Other apartments like this are going for $1,400, $1,500.

The tenants were all so handsome. Your aesthetic is all plum and gold, tapestries, jewels. [Mark] ABC Carpet! I could live in there. [Yalcin] The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, you get it for one-tenth the price.

It would be so nice to be there right now, just for the afternoon, eat a grape leaf or something. Wait, I just realized that I can’t think of any stories about ghosts in Mediterranean culture. Are ghosts just part of climates that are vaporous, layered like psychological life? [Yalcin] In Turkey, it’s more genies than ghosts, more religious connotations. Some genies are mentioned in the Koran. [Mark] Let’s look at the landlord’s garden. We clean the pond. The local cats come for the fish.